published Friday, January 4th, 2013

Ex-GOP official expands lawsuit


by Chris Carroll

Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment — "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican" — apparently doesn't apply to the Tennessee Republican Party.

A former chief of staff of the Tennessee Republican Party is suing the state GOP for breach of contract, court records show.

Mark Winslow, a onetime aide to Robin Smith, has filed a motion to include the Tennessee Republican Party as a defendant in his ongoing lawsuit against U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and his former top aide Chip Saltsman.

Before Smith and Fleischmann sparred for the Republican nomination in 2010's 3rd Congressional District race, Smith was state party chairwoman and Winslow her chief of staff.

Winslow alleges that current party Chairman Chris Devaney directed confidential information about Winslow's pay to Saltsman in a bid to weaken Smith's conservative credentials.

"Whether these documents were intentionally allowed to leave the Party offices in Nashville ... or were not maintained in a secure fashion and negligently revealed to the public, the Republican Party is guilty of breach of the confidentiality provisions of the contract," Winslow attorney Gary Blackburn wrote.

Tennessee Republican Party Deputy Executive Director Michael Sullivan said Devaney is aware of the development but "won't comment on pending legal matters."

Saltsman has said Winslow's personnel files were left anonymously on the steps of his home's garage. He used the documents to produce attack ads against Smith that charged she used party funds to give Winslow "lavish bonuses" at a time the party was in debt -- an accusation Fleischmann couldn't prove in a deposition obtained last year by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Fleischmann inched by Smith in the 2010 Republican primary and crushed Democrat John Wolfe in the general election. He was re-elected in November.

The lawsuit is entering its third year, and thousands in Fleischmann's campaign funds have been used for Saltsman's defense.

In an interview Wednesday, Blackburn predicted that adding the state party will prolong the case further. Barring a settlement, he said, a trial wouldn't begin until "fall at the earliest."

Winslow still has ties to the Tennessee Republican Party. He just finished another year as a state executive committeeman.

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